views updated May 21 2018


SAMĀDHI . The Sanskrit term samādhi (from sam, "together," the intensifying particle ā, and the verbal root dha, "place, put") literally means "placing together." It hints at the merging of subject and object, the essential characteristic of the mystical state of unification to which it refers. It is most frequently rendered by ecstasy, but because of the emotive charge of that Greek loanword, the neologism enstasy from the Greek for "standing in [oneself]"was suggested (Eliade, 1969) and is gaining increasing acceptance.

The earliest mention of samādhi is in the Buddhist Pali canon, where it stands for "concentration." Buddhist authorities define it as "mental one-pointedness" (cittasya ekāgratā; see, e.g., Buddhaghosa's Ahasālinī 118). This is not, however, the sporadic concentration of the conventional mind, but the creative yogic process of abstracting attention from external objects and focusing it upon the inner environment.

Slightly later than the Buddhist references is the mention of samādhi in the Bhagavadgītā (2.44, 53, 54) in the sense of one-pointedness as communion with the divine being. This enstatic and transformative experience of the divine is said to be fostered through strict meditational practices (see, e.g., Bhagavadgītā 6.1215), but also through disinterested action (see, e.g., Bhagavadgītā 12.10) and simple devotion to the personal God (see, e.g., Bhagavadgītā 12.11). Prior to these usages is the employment of the past participle samāhita ("collected") in reference to mental concentration (see, e.g., Bhadārayaka Upaniad 4.4.23).

As "perfect concentration" (samyaksamādhi), the term figures in Hinayana Buddhism as the last limb of the Eightfold Path of the Buddha. As such it comprises all the techniques of meditative introversion known as dhyāna (Pali, jhāna ), of which eight stages of progressive simplification of the contents of consciousness are distinguished. The first four stages pertain to the category of "meditation with form" (rūpa dhyāna ), the last four to that of "formless meditation" (arūpa dhyāna ). Beyond these mystical realizations lies the unconditional, transcendental reality, nirvāa.

The most elaborate metapsychology of samādhi states, modeled in part on the Buddhist schema, is found in the literature of classical Yoga. According to the Yoga Sūtra (2.11), samādhi ensues when the five types of fluctuations (vtti )perceptual or inferred knowledge, error, conceptualization, sleep, and memoryare perfectly suspended. That suspension (nirodha ) is achieved by means of sensory inhibition (pratyāhāra ), concentration (dhāraā), and meditation (dhyāna ), even though the state of suspension is only a sufficient, not a necessary, condition for the occurrence of the enstatic consciousness (grace motif).

In classical Yoga, samādhi designates the technique of mystical identification with the intended object, whereas the underlying process is more properly expressed by the term samāpatti ("coincidence"), which is reserved in Buddhism for the four states of formless meditation. Similarly, the expressions dhāraā and dhyāna represent types of yogic technique, while their essential processes are more accurately referred to as ekāgratā ("one-pointedness") and ekatānatā ("one-flowingness"), respectively.

The Yoga Sūtra (1.4244) mentions four levels of enstatic coincidence: (1) savitarka samāpatti, or "cogitative coincidence"; (2) nirvitarka samāpatti, or "transcogitative coincidence"; (3) savicāra samāpatti, or "reflexive coincidence"; and (4) nirvicāra samāpatti, or "transreflexive coincidence." The first two levels are practiced in relation to an intended object pertaining to the "coarse" dimension, whereas in the latter two the yogin's consciousness merges with a "subtle" (psychic, unmanifest) object. These four progressively "higher" stages belong to the category of saprajñāta samādhi, or "enstasy with [object-]consciousness."

In the Yoga Bhasya (1.17) two further levels are mentioned: (5) ānanda samāpatti, or "blissful coincidence" (according to Vācaspati Miśra's Tattvavaiśāradī 1.17, the intended object is here a sense organ), and (6) asmitā samāpatti, or "coincidence with the sense of individuation." Vācaspati Miśra makes a further distinction between (7) nirānanda samāpatti, or "coincidence beyond bliss," and (8) nirasmitā samāpatti, or "coincidence beyond the sense of individuation," but the existence of these types is adamantly denied by Vijñānabhik̄u in his Yoga Vārttika (1.17).

The evidence of the Yoga Sūtra itself suggests that the highest form of enstasy associated with object-consciousness is nirvicāra vaiśāradya, or "autumnal-lucidity in the transreflexive (state)." In this condition the transcendental Self (purua ) is intuited over against the nonself or ego-mechanism of nature (prakti ). When even that "vision of discernment" (viveka khyāti ) is suspended, there occurs a sudden, unpredictable switch-over into asaprajñāta samādhi, the enstasy devoid of object-consciousness in which only subconscious activators (sakara ) are operative. As this state is cultivated over a period of time, these activators neutralize each other, ultimately leading to dharmamegha samādhi, the "enstasy of the cloud of dharma [constituent, truth]." That condition is nowhere clearly defined, but it appears to be the terminal phase of asaprajñāta samādhi, being responsible for the cessation of the five causes of affliction (kleśa s) and all karman (see Yoga Sūtra 4.30), thus giving rise to final emancipation (apavarga, kaivalya ).

The dualist ontology and metapsychology of classical Yoga suggest that emancipation coincides with the demise of the finite body-mind. This goal of "disembodied liberation" (videhamukti ) contrasts with the ideal, in nondualist traditions like Advaita Vedanta, of "liberation in life" (jīvanmukti ). Whereas the abovementioned forms of enstasy represent realizations based on the introversion of attention, the enstasy associated with liberation in life is founded on the transcendence of attention itself. It is known as sahajasamādhi or "spontaneous [i. e., natural] enstasy"the enstasy "with open eyes" (Da Free John, 1983), transcending all knowledge and experience, both secular and esoteric.

See Also



Albrecht, Carl. Psychologie des mystischen Bewusstseins. Bremen, 1951. A profound phenomenological investigation of the meditative state preceding ecstasy/enstasy, with some fundamental observations about the nature of subject-object transcendence.

Conze, Edward. Buddhist Meditation. New York, 1969. A useful reader.

Da Free John. Enlightenment and the Transformation of Man. Edited by Georg Feuerstein. Clearlake, Calif., 1983. A compilation of published and unpublished materials with special reference to sahaja samādhi.

Dasgupta, Surendranath. The Study of Patañjali. Calcutta, 1920. An early study of classical Yoga containing useful materials on the enstatic state.

Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. 2d ed. Princeton, 1969. There are several relevant sections in this standard work on Yoga; see especially pages 76ff. and 167ff.

Feuerstein, Georg. The Philosophy of Classical Yoga. Manchester, 1980. The different stages of enstatic unification are given a fresh examination, especially on pages 81ff.

Feuerstein, Georg. The Bhagavad Gītā: Its Philosophy and Cultural Setting. Wheaton, Ill., 1983. See especially the chapter on the yogic path, pages 126146.

Jarrell, Howard R. International Meditation Bibliography, 19501982. ATLA Bibliography Series, no. 12. Metuchen, N.J., and London, 1985. An extensive, if still incomplete, bibliography listing over one thousand books and more than nine hundred articles on the subject of meditation.

Koelman, Gaspar M. Pātañjala Yoga: From Related Ego to Absolute Self. Poona, 1970. The enstatic state is given careful attention on the basis of the commentarial literature on the Yoga Sūtra, especially on pages 187ff.

Langen, Dietrich. Archaische Ekstase und asiatische Meditation. Stuttgart, 1963. A comparative study of ecstatic/enstatic techniques in relation to contemporary psychotherapeutic-medical methods of relaxation and hypnosis.

Oberhammer, Gerhard. Strukturen yogischer Meditation. Vienna, 1977. The most detailed Indological study of yogic meditation and enstasy, with particular reference to Sākhya, the Mgendra Tantra, and classical Yoga.

New Sources

Biermann, Derek. Samādhi: Personal Journeys to Spiritual Truth. Boston, 2000.

Georg Feuerstein (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 21 2018

Samādhi (Skt., ‘putting together’, ‘union’). Enstasis, intense concentration or absorption of consciousness in a variety of higher mental states in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain yoga, in which distinction between subject and object is eliminated; the eighth ‘limb’ of ‘eight-limbed’ (aṣṭāṅga) or rāja yoga. Samādhi is the consequence of meditation rather than the state of meditation itself.

In Hinduism, samādhi is achieved through yoga in which the yogin's consciousness (citta) is absorbed in the object of meditation and there is no awareness of the physical or material world.

Other Hindu traditions such as Vedānta, Śaivism, Vaiṣṇavism, and Tantrism accept the idea of samādhi as a consequence of yoga practice, while adhering to a diversity of metaphysical systems and practices. Tantrism accepts samādhi as found in classical yoga, but emphasizes the attainment of samādhi and liberation (mokṣa) through Kuṇḍa-linī and mantra yoga.

In Buddhism, samādhi is produced through the practice of that aspect of Buddhist meditation concerned with mind-development (citta-bhāvanā), involving tranquillity (samatha) and the absorptions (jhāna), as distinct from insight-development (vipassanā-bhāvanā). It is therefore used as a synonym for these meditations.

Unlike insight (vipassanā), samādhi can be realized by non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist ascetics, and it is through its practice that supernormal powers (iddhi) are achieved. Samādhi is generally regarded as an indispensable component of Buddhist practice and forms one of the links of the Eightfold Path (aṣṭangika-marga) as well as part of the three-fold dimension of the Path, together with śīla (morality) and prajñā (wisdom). It is listed as one of the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga), the five spiritual powers (bala), and six perfections (pārāmitas).

In Zen Buddhism, samādhi (Jap., sanmai, zenmai) is the overcoming of a dualistic, subject-object, awareness, through concentration on a single object and experiencing unity with it.

Among Jains, samādhi is a virtual equivalent of dhyāna or bhāvanā, the meditation which seeks to destroy the accumulation of karma in order to release the jīva. It is the interior preparation for, and exercise of, increasingly severe asceticism (tapas).


views updated May 18 2018

sa·ma·dhi / səˈmädē/ • n. (pl. -dhis) Hinduism & Buddhism a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In Hindu yoga this is regarded as the final stage, at which union with the divine is reached (before or at death). ∎ Indian a funerary monument.